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Nearly free surface silanols are the critical molecular moieties that initiate the toxicity of silica particles.

ABSTRACT: Inhalation of silica particles can induce inflammatory lung reactions that lead to silicosis and/or lung cancer when the particles are biopersistent. This toxic activity of silica dusts is extremely variable depending on their source and preparation methods. The exact molecular moiety that explains and predicts this variable toxicity of silica remains elusive. Here, we have identified a unique subfamily of silanols as the major determinant of silica particle toxicity. This population of "nearly free silanols" (NFS) appears on the surface of quartz particles upon fracture and can be modulated by thermal treatments. Density functional theory calculations indicates that NFS locate at an intersilanol distance of 4.00 to 6.00 Å and form weak mutual interactions. Thus, NFS could act as an energetically favorable moiety at the surface of silica for establishing interactions with cell membrane components to initiate toxicity. With ad hoc prepared model quartz particles enriched or depleted in NFS, we demonstrate that NFS drive toxicity, including membranolysis, in vitro proinflammatory activity, and lung inflammation. The toxic activity of NFS is confirmed with pyrogenic and vitreous amorphous silica particles, and industrial quartz samples with noncontrolled surfaces. Our results identify the missing key molecular moieties of the silica surface that initiate interactions with cell membranes, leading to pathological outcomes. NFS may explain other important interfacial processes involving silica particles.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC7668052 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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